An Exceptional Infidel
14 September 2013
After reading an insightful interview of Ayaan Hirsi Ali a few months ago, I decided to order her acclaimed autobiography, Infidel.

A 350-page account of her life under Islam, from her childhood in Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Kenya, all the way through her being a member of the Dutch Parliament, as well as an account of the jihad murder of her friend Theo van Gogh — this fascinating book is very well written and a real page-turner. It was so engrossing that I found it much more interesting than the science fiction books I was then reading. Her account proves the old adage: truth is indeed stranger than fiction!

There's not much point in trying to recount the events of her life — you'll just have to get the book and read all of those spellbinding details for yourself. But as the story unfolds, and particularly nearer the end of the book, Ayaan not only shares her story, but also her deep thoughts about Islam. Following are some extracts from chapter 14, "Leaving God." After the September 11 attacks in 2001, she did a lot of soul searching about Islam, the Quran, and Allah.
I didn't want to do it, but I had to: I picked up the Quran and the hadith and started looking through them. I hated to do it, because I knew that I would find Bin Laden's quotations in there, and I didn't want to question God's word. But I needed to ask: Did the 9/11 attacks stem from true belief in true Islam? And if so, what did I think about Islam?

I felt that Islam all over the world was now in a truly terrible crisis. Surely, no Muslim could continue to ignore the clash between reason and our religion? For centuries we had been behaving as though all knowledge was in the Quran, refusing to question anything, refusing to progress. We had been hiding from reason for so long because we were incapable of facing up to the need to integrate it into our beliefs. And this was not working; it was leading to hideous pain and monstrous behavior.

We Muslims had been taught to define life on earth as a passage, a test that precedes real life in the Hereafter. In that test, everyone should ideally live in a manner resembling, as closely as possible, the followers of the Prophet. Didn't this inhibit investment in improving daily life? Was innovation therefore forbidden to Muslims? Were human rights, progress, women's rights all foreign to Islam?

By declaring our Prophet infallible and not permitting ourselves to question him, we Muslims had set up a static tyranny. The Prophet Muhammad attempted to legislate every aspect of life. By adhering to his rules of what is permitted and what is forbidden, we Muslims suppressed the freedom to think for ourselves and to act as we chose. We froze the moral outlook of billions of people into the mind-set of the Arab desert in the seventh century. We were not just servants of Allah, we were slaves.

The little shutter at the back of my mind, where I pushed all my dissonant thoughts, snapped open after the 9/11 attacks, and it refused to close again. I found myself thinking that the Quran is not a holy document. It is a historical record, written by humans. It is one version of events, as perceived by the men who wrote it 150 years after the Prophet Muhammad died. And it is a very tribal and Arab version of events. It spreads a culture that is brutal, bigoted, fixated on controlling women, and harsh in war.

There were times when I, like many other Muslims, found it too complicated to deal with the whole issue of war against the unbelievers. Most Muslims never delve into theology, and we rarely read the Quran; we are taught it in Arabic, which most Muslims can't speak. As a result, most people think that Islam is about peace. It is from these people, honest and kind, that the fallacy has arisen that Islam is peaceful and tolerant.

But I could no longer avoid seeing the totalitarianism, the pure moral framework that is Islam. It regulates every detail of life and subjugates free will. True Islam, as a rigid belief system and a moral framework, leads to cruelty. The inhuman act of those nineteen hijackers was the logical outcome of this detailed system for regulating human behavior. Their world is divided between "Us" and "Them" — if you don't accept Islam, you should perish.

It didn't have to be this way.... We Muslims could shed our attachment to those dogmas that clearly lead to ignorance and oppression.... We could hold our dogmas up to the light, scrutinize them, and then infuse traditions that are rigid and inhumane with the values of progress and modernity. We could come to terms with individual expression.

For me to think this way, of course, I had to make the leap to believing that the Quran was relative — not absolute, not the literal syllables pronounced by God, but just another book. I also had to reject the idea of Hell, whose looming prospect had always frightened me from making any criticism of Islam. I found myself thinking one night, "But if that is so, then what do I believe, truly, about God?"

I did not feel strong enough to face what would happen if I said, out loud, that I no longer believed. For a Muslim, to be an apostate is the worst thing possible. Christians can cease to believe in God; that is a personal matter that affects only their eternal soul. But for a Muslim to cease believing in Allah is a lethal offense. Apostates merit death: on that, the Quran and the hadith are clear. For a Muslim woman to abjure her faith is the worst kind of disobedience to God, because it comes from the lowest, most impure element in society. It cries out for God's punishment.
Well, I could share a lot more of Ayaan's writings, but like I said before, you'll just have to get a copy and read it all for yourself — I highly recommend it!
UPDATE: For the autobiography of another outspoken anti-Islamic Dutch parliamentarian and ideological soul-mate, check out my review of Geert Wilders' Marked For Death.